By: JACK M.
The discussion of the use of animals in biomedical research is as contentious and controversial as it is divisive and alienating. The subjects involved range from frogs, mice, cats and dogs, up to and including the “higher” lifeforms of primates such as monkeys and chimpanzees. And the spectrum of institutions that make use of these animals includes universities, pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies, and government agencies.
These is no shortage of literature which strongly suggests in no uncertain terms that much of the scientific and medical advancements that have been made in the past couple of centuries or so have been the direct result of animal research. And there is an equally loud contingent of organizations, law makers, activists and ethicists that decries the use of any animal in any research; chief among these perhaps are PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the many humane societies around the world.
But this article is not is not about pitting one school of thought against the other. It is not about condemning or condoning, or winning converts to one side or the other. This article is about the few lucky chimpanzees that get to live out their days at a chimp-friendly habitat called Chimp Haven. When used for research, exhibited as circus acts or even kept as pets, many chimpanzees are either euthanized or die an undignified and often painful death. Or worse still, like these chimps, they are simply abandoned. But due in large part by a public outcry, attitudes towards using primates in any type of research have changed, and continue to change, and Chimp Haven’s residents probably represent the best that human intervention can offer. Compared with their former lives in cramped cages and with very little social contact, these chimps must think they’ve awakened from a bad dream and gone straight to Heaven.
Chimp Haven was founded in 1995 by a diverse group of people whose mandate was, as its website suggests, to provide care to “those chimpanzees no longer used in biomedical research, the entertainment industry or the pet trade.” In 1999, the state of Louisiana donated a 200-acre plot of forested land in Keithville to the foundation for the sole purpose of opening a sanctuary for the chimpanzees, and when the U.S. Congress passed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act in 2000, the foundation had the funding and the land it needed to make Chimp Haven a reality.
Chimp Haven’s sanctuary was opened in 2005, and since then it has been taking care of those chimps that had been, and continue to be, discarded by the drug and cosmetics industries, abandoned by pet owners or grown too old for circus acts and side shows. But perhaps the largest user of chimpanzees for research has been the U.S. government. Beginning around the mid-1980s, the government made extensive use of primates for medical research, but this use eventually began to wane, leaving the fate of hundreds of animals in the balance.
And now, for the first time in their lives, instead of seeing the world through iron bars, the residents of Chimp Haven are seeing the open sky. For the first time, they are bonding with others of their species. They are no longer being purposely infected with invasive and painful disease organisms and subjected to the daily routines of being injected with equally-painful and trauma-inducing experimental drugs. No longer are they forced to wear ridiculous clothes and perform ridiculous circus tricks for an ignorant, gawking public. And, for the first time in their lives…they are not afraid.